THE second batch of 21 Zimbabwean evacuees from Sudan, where rival factions of the military government are in armed conflict, arrived home yesterday aboard an Emirates plane which touched down at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport at exactly 5pm.
It was a highly emotional moment as relatives welcomed evacuees from a war zone after an armed conflict between rival factions of the military government of Sudan began on April 15.
Relief was written all over their faces as they left the airport to be welcomed by their families and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
They thanked both the Government and President Mnangagwa, and Zimbabwean Ambassador to Sudan, Emmanuel Runganga Gumbo, who got them ready and then whisked them out of Khartoum in a bus he hired to join a UN convoy leaving the city.
The Government continued helping them get home via a sea journey to Saudi Arabia and then a flight via Dubai.
Most countries, including Zimbabwe, have been evacuating their non-essential diplomatic staff and nationals as heavy fighting escalates.
Among those who arrived are teachers, sports coaches and staff members from the Zimbabwean Embassy in Khartoum.
The first batch of evacuees arrived in the country on Friday night and now, with the Zimbabweans all out of Sudan, there are just three still to come home today from Saudi Arabia, the first stop on their journey home.
Mr Elvis Mudeikwa (34), who was coaching tennis at junior level in Sudan, described his experiences as terrifying and traumatising.
“When I hear the sound of an aeroplane, I get scared thinking I am still in Sudan,” he said.
Mr Mudeikwa was one of the first to go to Sudan following a request from that country for expertise in sports development.
“I went to Sudan through its Government to train tennis. The situation in Sudan is very scary, the good thing is that we managed create groups for the Zimbabwean community in Sudan.
“After that we have to communicate where we share information on how we can escape from the war-torn nation or wait until there is a ceasefire between the two fighting groups, so that we can try to escape from Sudan”, he said.
“The airport was closed, so it was difficult to fly out from Khartoum. We have to travel by road from Khartoum to Port Sudan for 36 hours and then from Port Sudan we travelled by ship for 24 hours to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; that’s where we stayed for a couple of days and now managed to connect through to Dubai and finally Harare.
“We have to thank God that everyone we had from Khartoum arrived safely. We have to thank President Mnangagwa and Ambassador Emmanuel Gumbo for putting maximum safety on Zimbabwean citizens in Sudan.”
Mrs Susan Mangwende, who was teaching in Khartoum, said her experience in Sudan was very terrible.
“We were used to the sounds of heavy artillery in Sudan, but it was not easy. I am someone who was used to a peaceful environment which exists in Zimbabwe and then you wake up one day and hear gunfire sounds in a foreign country, it’s something which is scary and frightening.
“I want to thank Ambassador Gumbo for the speedy reaction to evacuate Zimbabweans in Sudan. He guided us and promised us that once we got an opportunity for cease fire, he wanted all Zimbabweans to be prepared for evacuation to our country,” she said.
Mrs Mangwende applauded the Government for providing transport to ferry all its residents from Khartoum.
“The situation was horrible. We travelled for almost 1 000km without water. Food became a luxury. We also went for long periods without water and electricity. I was scared. We couldn’t go out to fetch food because of continuous gunfire, and the few shops which were open were faraway. Prices started to skyrocket and water became a precious liquid,” she said.
Mrs Mangwende also commended the Saudi Arabia Government for providing safe passage for Zimbabweans.
“We were given enough food and water up until we left the country. I had never heard the sound of gunfire at close range my entire life. But it all became a reality in Sudan’s capital as heavy gunfire and bombings started in the early morning of April 15. Stray bullets could be seen going through walls. I lost hope; I thought I was dying,” said Mrs Mangwende who teaches at a school in Khartoum.
Mr Nocodemus Ncube, who was also a teacher in Sudan, said: “We travelled a long journey from Khartoum to Port Sudan. It took us around 25 hours. It took us another 36 hours on this ship from Port Sudan to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, a nearly 900km journey through the sea,” he said.
“We remain grateful to the President through his Ambassador Emmanuel Runganga Gumbo, for the swift action he took to make sure we were safe. If it wasn’t for them, we would have been there or dead at most. When the United Nations came to escort people, the ambassador quickly organised a bus that joined the convoy and ferried us to the port.
“I was in a place where I was locked up for 10 days. There was constant shooting and on the 11th day that’s when we have decided to move out with my wife and two daughters.”
He was teaching in Sudan for six years.
“There was no transport for us from our residential area. Being in a car was even more dangerous; you could get shot, so we walked and in some places were walking over dead bodies. It was scary, we just hope that it doesn’t have a permanent impact on our lives. We thank God that we are alive.
“One minute we thought it was surreal; there were heavy bombings all over, fighter jets flying past our houses. We were very close to where much of the fighting was, the Khartoum International Airport, which had been captured by one of the armed groups,” said Mr Ncube.
A 13-year-old evacuee, Blessed Mahachi, recounted the horror that he went through on the first day of fighting between the Government army and RSF militants.
“I am happy to be back home safe. I am feeling happy. When I was in Sudan I was scared that something might happen to me. I want to thank God that I am alive,” he said.
Mrs Annah Madekubveni, who was at the airport welcoming her daughter Shingirirai Isabel and her son-in-law Pride, could not hide her joy.
“I thought I would never see my daughter and son-in-law who were working in Sudan. I am really happy that they are alive. I want to the Government for facilitating their safe passage back home. I would like to thank President Mnangagwa for caring for his people. He is a caring father,” said Mrs Madekubveni.
Ambassador Gumbo said they took advantage of the window that had been opened by a temporary ceasefire to evacuate Zimbabwean nationals.
The war started when clashes broke out in western Sudan, in the capital city of Khartoum, and in the Darfur region. The fighting began with attacks by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) on key government sites. Airstrikes, artillery, and gunfire were reported across Sudan including in Khartoum.
As of April 23, 2023, both the RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo and Sudan’s de facto leader and army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan claimed control of several key government sites, including the general military headquarters, the Presidential Palace, Khartoum International Airport, Burhan’s official residence, and the SNBC headquarters.